Dog Psychology

In order to understand why dogs bite, it is important to stand how a dog thinks and how these thoughts influence their actions. Dog psychology can help humans to get along better with dogs in terms of training, interaction, and socializing. Additionally, understanding dog psychology can help to prevent dog attacks in situations where the warning signs are clear.

Wolf Pack Mentality

Domesticated dogs have a diluted “pack” mentality that was developed based on their wolf ancestors. This means that their socialization and interaction with other dogs – and thus humans – is based on their relationships with others in the pack, as well as a ranking system. Dogs who are the leader of the pack, or alpha dogs, earn their status within the pack.

Dominance and Aggression

In order to enforce their status, wolf pack leaders may use aggression and violence when they deem necessary. This partially explains why domesticated dogs growl, show their teeth, bark, or bite when threatened. In a pack environment, these actions can act as a signal to other dogs to back down and forfeit power, food, territory, or resources back to the pack leader. However, aggression is rarely necessary for domesticated dogs to assert their dominance, because dogs and wolves have different life and social systems. Aggression in domesticated dogs is typically a result of the “fight or flight” mechanism as a result of fear or vulnerability.

In domesticated dogs, aggression may be the result of fear due to:

  • Lack of early and proper socialization
  • Lack of proper training
  • Owner or trainer’s misuse of negative-reinforcement training
  • Traumatic past experiences or negative relationships
  • Genetic predisposition due to factors such as poor breeding

Dogs Are Not Humans

One of the fundamental flaws in human treatment of dogs is humanization. Many individuals attribute human emotions to their dogs, such as anger, jealousy, guilt, and spite. It may appear that a dog is jealous by pushing his way through when another dog gets attention. However, jealousy is not the driving force behind this behavior.

Reaction vs. Reason

Dogs do not “reason” in the way that humans do. In most cases, they are reacting to their environment. For example, when a dog “slinks,” or cowers in response to the owner’s anger for something he or she acted undesirably, the dog is not expressing guilt. The dog is simply reacting to the observation that the owner is angry.

It is also important to note that dogs do not premeditate their actions. Each action taken by a dog is based on the stimulus that occurred immediately before it. Reactions to stimuli are based on natural instinct, not emotion.




Arnold, Jennifer. Through a Dog’s Eyes. New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2010. Print.

Mueller, Larry. “Dog psychology 101.” Outdoor Life July 1996: 40+. Academic OneFile. Web. 6 Jan. 2014.

Mueller, Larry. “Dog psychology 301: instinct gives him the desire to hunt, but only focused training will make him a bird dog.” Outdoor Life Sept. 1996: 30+. Academic OneFile. Web. 6 Jan. 2014.

Solomon, Deborah. “Leader of the Pack.” The New York Times Magazine 7 May 2006: 19(L). Academic OneFile. Web. 6 Jan. 2014.